The Washington Post

Russian national indicted in political influence operation in U.S.

- BY DEVLIN BARRETT

Federal authoritie­s charged a Russian man Friday with a yearslong malign influence campaign targeting U.S. politics — alleging that he used American groups in Florida, Georgia and California to sow discord and push pro-russia propaganda.

Aleksandr Viktorovic­h Ionov, who lives in Moscow, worked for nearly eight years with Russian officials to fund and direct the U.S. groups, according to the indictment filed in Florida. The 24-page document does not name the groups but charges that Ionov also advised the campaigns of two unidentifi­ed political candidates in Florida.

Ionov “allegedly orchestrat­ed a brazen influence campaign, turning U.S. political groups and U.S. citizens into instrument­s of the Russian government,” Matthew Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a written statement.

In 2017 and 2019, Ionov allegedly monitored and supported the campaigns of two Americans running for local office, identified in court papers only as Unindicted Co- Conspirato­r-3 and Unindicted Co- Conspirato­r-4. Before the 2019 primary, Ionov allegedly wrote to a Russian official that he had been “consulting every week” on one campaign. After one of the candidates advanced to the general election, a Russian intelligen­ce officer allegedly wrote to Ionov that “our election campaign is kind of unique,” and asked, “Are we the first in history?” Ionov later sent the intelligen­ce officer details about the election, referring to that candidate as the one “whom we supervise.”

In 2016, according to authoritie­s, Ionov paid for a St. Petersburg, Fla., group to conduct a fourcity protest tour in support of a “Petition on Crime of Genocide Against African People in the United States” — a document the group had previously submitted to the United Nations at Ionov’s behest. Charging documents did not identify the group, but officials familiar with the case said it was Uhuru House, which is run by the African People’s Socialist Party.

Akile Anai, a member of the group, said in an interview that it has spent 50 years “fighting for the freedom of Black people.”

“We are being attacked because of our relationsh­ip with forces internatio­nally who support the anti-colonial struggle,” said Anai, who is director of agitation and propaganda for the African People’s Socialist Party. “What they are saying about Alex and this relationsh­ip with the Russian government — this is all the U.S. government’s attempt to use us as pawns in a propaganda war against Russia.”

She said police lured her out of her home early Friday by saying her car had been broken into, then searched her vehicle and seized her laptop and cellphone. Anai said the FBI conducted a similar early-morning search at the group’s national headquarte­rs in St. Louis, Mo.

FBI Special Agent in Charge David Walker said at a news conference Friday that the case includes “some of the most egregious and blatant violations that we’ve seen by the Russian government in order to destabiliz­e and undermine trust in American democracy. . . . The Russian intelligen­ce threat is continuing and unrelentin­g.”

Officials said they were executing search warrants in the St. Petersburg area Friday to gather more evidence against Ionov, the only person charged in the case.

“This indictment is just the first of our responses, but it will not be the last,” Walker said.

U.S. authoritie­s say Ionov is the founder and president of the Anti- Globalizat­ion Movement of Russia, which is funded by the Russian government. He allegedly used the group to provide money and instructio­ns to American political groups and instructed them on behalf of the Russian intelligen­ce agency FSB.

In 2015, Ionov allegedly paid for the leader of the group in St. Petersburg to travel to Moscow. For the next seven years, Ionov “exercised direction and control over senior members” of the group, the indictment says.

At least one of the Americans dealing with Ionov seemed to understand that Russia was backing his efforts. According to authoritie­s, after returning from Russia, the leader of the St. Petersburg group said it was clear that Ionov’s group was “an instrument” of the Russian government, but added that did not “disturb us.” In a follow-up email discussion, leaders of the group said it was “more than likely” that Russia was using Ionov’s group to sow division in the United States, according to the Justice Department.

After Russia invaded Ukraine this year, Ionov allegedly told his FSB handlers that he had enlisted the St. Petersburg group to support Russia in the “informatio­n war unleashed” by the United States and Europe.

Ionov is also accused of directing and controllin­g an unidentifi­ed political group in California that advocated for that state’s secession. In 2018, according to authoritie­s, Ionov provided financial support for the group’s protest at the state Capitol in Sacramento, and tried to persuade the group’s leader to enter the governor’s office. After the protest, Ionov allegedly wrote to an FSB officer, saying that the officer had asked for “turmoil,” and adding, “There you go.”

He is also accused of directing the efforts of a group based in Atlanta, paying this year for members to travel to San Francisco to protest at the headquarte­rs of a social media company that had restricted posts supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He is charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government.

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